Collymore’s final hours with Uhuru

After revealing he did not have long to live, Collymore and President discussed many issues

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday lifted the lid on fallen Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore’s last moments, revealing for the first time the calls he made in the middle of the night and their subsequent meeting just days to his death.

The two discussed a wide range of matters, but it appears Collymore was most interested in the legacy he and Mr Kenyatta would eventually leave behind, revealed the President during a memorial service in honour of Collymore at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi yesterday. The three-hour meeting, the last between the two, dwelled on, among others, the future of Safaricom, the war on corruption, and President Kenyatta’s legacy. At the end, Collymore revealed to Mr Kenyatta that he did not have much time to live.

Safaricom’s second chief executive died on Monday morning at his home in Nairobi of cancer and was cremated on Tuesday at a private ceremony attended only by family members and close friends.

“I was on a trip to Canada when Bob called me at 2am. When I asked why he was calling me at that hour he said he didn’t know I had travelled but that he had an urgent message. And I said couldn’t it wait? He said it could, but he just wanted to tell me that he was going to break the promise he had made to hang on to Safaricom for another year,” said the President.

When he came back, he went to Collymore’s house where he joked that he thought it was Collymore’s wife Wambui who had pressured him to quit. It was then that he broke the news that he did not think he had more than a couple of weeks to live. He told the President that he had tried his best, and that he had now given up and accepted his time had come.

Mr Kenyatta said yesterday that they spent the whole afternoon talking about Safaricom and Collymore’s vision and dream on the company he was leaving behind. Bob Collymore also advised Mr Kenyatta on what he should focus on to cement his legacy as President.

“Bob loved Kenya,” said the President, referring to the CEO by his first name, by which he was affectionately known to many Kenyans. “He loved it as if it was his own country. He loved Safaricom as if it was part of his family. He loved his wife and children dearly.”

“Our almost three-hour conversation focused on the fight against corruption, which must be won, and the issue of how we deal with the moral fabric of our society, which has collapsed,” said President Kenyatta.

He said when he asked Collymore what he could do for him, he said: “You can’t do anything for me. But if there is anything you can do, please take care of Wambui and the children.”

Collymore was diagnosed with cancer of the bone marrow in October 2017 and was out of the country for the better part of last year undergoing treatment.

There was a light moment when President Kenyatta accused former Gatanga MP

Peter Kenneth and the other members of a ‘Boys’ Club’ comprising Mr Collymore’s closest friends of taking something special that had been reserved for him at Collymore’s house.

A few moments earlier, Mr Kenneth had explained how on Saturday Collymore had, during a “last supper” meeting with his friends, insisted that they all partake of a bottle of whiskey he had kept for a special occasion.

It was understood that it was that bottle of whiskey that the President was referring to, sending the solemn gathering into fits of laughter.

The club comprises Mr Kenneth, Radio Africa Group CEO Patrick Quarcoo, KCB CEO Joseph Oigara, stock market trader Aly-Khan Sachu, Citizen TV anchor Jeff Koinange, Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar, and British High Commissioner Nic Hailey.

Ms Collymore described her late husband as a great man who was people-centred, and who “touched the lives of many people through various initiatives such as the M-Pesa Academy” because he believed that “a person’s life was important, no matter how small”.

“There are little things you can do to make a big difference,” said Ms Collymore.

No man’s death has united a nation in recent years as has that of the Guyana-born corporate titan, who was eulogised by speakers from all walks of life as a gentle giant who left you feeling you had been dealing with a friend and not a man running a Sh1.2 trillion company.

By steering a company that has been the soul of Kenya’s economy for nine years, Collymore touched virtually all the 50-odd million Kenyans. He took over from founding CEO Michael Joseph in November 2010 and took the company to dizzying heights. Safaricom is respected globally for pioneering the mobile money revolution.

Mr Joseph, Collymore’s predecessor-turned-successor, praised his courage and good cheer that kept him concerned, not about his illness, but about his family and the people around him, including his doctors.

An emotional Joseph, who was appointed on Tuesday as an interim CEO, read a poem that he and the late Collymore had written, and said he had realised they shared the same ideals and vision for both Safaricom and Kenya. He said they had struck a pact that whoever would survive the other would recite the poem at the deceased’s memorial service.

Ms Ash Jepkorir, a student at the M-Pesa Foundation Academy, eulogised Collymore as a genuine, generous and humorous man. “He consistently told us we inspired him, but he inspired us more,” she said.

Deputy President William Ruto said Collymore inspired and influenced government policies, citing the centralisation of technical education and the police communication system.


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